Akita is known for delicious sake and food, beautiful nature, Akita dog, and so on.
But, we also have a wonderful summer festival in this small Ugo town!
It’s called “Nishimonai Bon Odori festival”.
Every summer, from August 16th to 18th, lots of people gather in Ugo, a small town of the southern Akita. Many visitors come from all over Japan during the three-day festival! Do you know why it is so attractive? Let me tell you!
Nishimonai Bon Odori is one of the three major Bon Odori festivals in Japan.
It is said that the festival has been started in the 1280s to pray for rich harvest. Today, it is admitted as an Important Intangible Cultural Asset of Japan.
Traditionally, children in Nishimonai, Ugo, learn how to dance to perform in the festival every summer. Those children grow up and hand it down to their kids.
In this way, the traditional dance has been succeeded until today.
As I said, Nishimonai Bon Odori is held at night between August 16th and 18th during Japanese Obon period.
As it gets dark outside, local children and parents gradually gather and start to dance with its unique song and music consisting of Japanese bamboo flute, drum and other instruments.
There are also bonfire along the street, which create mysterious but fascinating atmosphere.
Finally, around midnight, adult performers come to dance.
This is the time!
Matured adult dancers show their well-experienced performance!
One of the attractiveness of Nishimonai Bon Odori is the dancers’ hand-movement.
Their hands and fingers are really flexible, so it makes the dance more and more beautiful. That’s so impressive!
Another beauty of Nishimonai Bon Odori is their traditional kimono (Japanese traditional clothes), called “Hanui”.
Its name comes from the way of making “Hanui”.
According to a story, local people in old days collected some pieces of kimono and sew them together to make one beautiful “Hanui”. That’s why, it’s so colorful and nice!
Also, some dancers wear a black hood called “Hikosa zukin” to express dead people.
So it is also known as a performance to pray for ancestors who are believed to come back in Obon period during the festival. There are not only female dancers wearing “Hanui” but also male dancers with “Hikosa zukin”.
Although the audience can’t clearly see dancers’ face, you may recognize whether they are male or female, and beginners or professionals by watching their movement. It’s interesting to find the difference!
About music, there are two types, “Ondo” and “Ganke”.
“Ondo” seems to be elegant while “Ganke” seems more dynamic. The traditional band, “Hayashi”, changes the atmosphere depending on the music. Its ethnic song is also attractive!
It’s basically about the culture, prayer, harvest, and so on. But! It becomes more… “interesting” at midnight. If you understand Akita dialect, you may surprise at sexy lyrics of the song…haha!
So, do you want to see our Nishimonai Bon Odori? I hope you become interested in our festival and experience it soon!
~~~ Website ~~~
Nishimonai Bon Odori in Ugo, Akita
*Access: About 1 and a half hour by car from Akita city
Written by Naomi in Ugo
*As of June, 2019.